In episode 17, Inside Electric’s Hazel Southwell chats to Mahindra Racing Formula E driver Pascal Wehrlein about becoming the DTM’s youngest ever champion, his time racing in Formula 1, as well as some of his experiences in Formula E and what he’s been up to whilst under lockdown in Switzerland.
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Artwork: © Rebecca Jodgalweit / Inside Electric
Intro Music: © BananaStudio2013
Content: © Inside Electric
Featuring: Hazel Southwell and Pascal Wehrlein
Produced and edited by Rob Watts
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Episode preview transcript
Hazel Southwell: How are you, and what have you been up to for the past few weeks?
Pascal Wehrlein: “Yeah so I’m currently in Switzerland, that’s where I live since three years. It’s very close to Germany, just 10 minutes to Germany, and we also have a lockdown, they just have reopened it a little bit again so I was able three days ago to see my parents again for the first time since two months. It has been a long time, otherwise, the last two months I would say I’ve done a lot in my flat, so I’ve changed a lot of things. Reshuffled everything a bit and made a lot of things new, so yeah, obviously a lot of training, staying at home, a lot of Playstation as well. I’ve met a lot of friends online and played some games together, and yeah, not a lot more to be honest. I try to stay at home as much as I can. I only went outside for sports and shopping for food and drinks and so on. Yeah, otherwise, not a lot. I’m trying to stay fit and healthy?”
Hazel Southwell: So you’ve been doing DIY or home repairs it sounds like?
Pascal Wehrlein: “No, not repairs. I’ve changed a lot of things, so like I said, I’ve been here three years in this flat and I just wanted to make things different and new. I have my own dressing room now, and a small gym room, and yeah, those things.”
Hazel Southwell: When we last had a Formula E race [in Marrakesh] most people were thinking of going on from there to the Geneva motor show. The event was cancelled which felt like it was the moment that things really sort of hit. Was it difficult for you to get back to Switzerland after Marrakesh?
Pascal Wehrlein: “No, it was normal. I would say where [it was] starting to get a bit more difficult for me close to Melbourne. I was supposed to go to Italy but I didn’t go in the end. I would say that was the moment it was getting more and more critical here. You were not allowed to travel really outside anymore, and you were not sure if you came back to Switzerland if you’d need to go to quarantine. I would say two weeks after Marrakesh it was getting quite tricky here, and yeah, from there on I couldn’t move outside anymore.”
Hazel Southwell: You mentioned you’ve been doing some gaming in lieu of anything else. What’s your favorite game to play?
Pascal Wehrlein: “Call of Duty. They just brought out a mode which is similar to Fortnite, it’s called warzone and it’s great. It’s good fun to play, especially with friends, you can do like a squad and you’re playing against other teams. For me, it’s really fun together with friends. I’m not a big fan of playing it alone, but I really love it together with friends.”
Hazel Southwell: It’s kind of a way of hanging out without directly speaking to each other.
Pascal Wehrlein: “No, we do! We are connected by headsets so we can talk to each so that’s cool. I also haven’t seen them in weeks and months, so that’s the only real thing, together with Facetime and Whatsapp, to stay connected. Most of the time we meet in the evenings and just play for a couple of hours.”
Hazel Southwell: You are a driver that spends a lot of time working in simulators, both with Mahindra and your role with Ferrari in Formula 1. Presumably, because you’re quite young, it’s always been a part of motorsport since you came into it. How is it with that being the only thing that exists now? Are being sent homework by the team now you’ve got [a sim at home]?
Pascal Wehrlein: “No, not at all. We do all the races, so I think it’s nine weeks in a row, every Saturday we have that online race from Formula E [the Race at Home Challenge] but it’s like very easy. I don’t have any requests from the team to train or to do a lot in that simulator at home because it’s not realistic enough to be honest to learn something for the real track. So, also this simulator is also very different, like you said, to the simulator we have at Mahindra and at Ferrari, so there’s not a big benefit. I mean, it’s good fun for us just driving and that feeling of competitiveness, but it’s too far from reality. But still, like I said, it’s good fun and again it’s a good laugh every Saturday.”
Hazel Southwell: You seem to get into some good battles. The race that just happened was the kind of fictional harbour front track. You were tangling with quite a lot of drivers and you didn’t end up in the wall, which was good!
Pascal Wehlein: “I did! Yes, so I think I started third or fourth. I had a bad start and went back to P7, but after two laps I was in second place already. Max Günther, I would say is, yeah, at the moment the quickest guy. Obviously he’s spent a lot of time in the sim and he has his own setup. I don’t know what everything he’s got, pedals and so on, but there are also some big differences obviously. But yeah, he’s doing the best job in the simulator. I was catching up to him, and I think I closed the gap from like four seconds to 0.4 seconds, and I had a small mistake in the chicane and crashed into the wall. I am quite sure there was a small bug because I was still braking and then all of a sudden I was in the wall. Maybe I was going so fast I was sleeping, but it felt like a bug!”
Hazel Southwell: I thought it was funny that they brought back the virtual fake chicanes after everyone complained about them in real life.
Pascal Wehrlein: “But the track was really fun! I mean, it’s not a typical Formula E track because it’s really fast with a lot of high-speed corners. It was quite long as well I think, one lap was about 2.6 or 2.8km, but yeah, it was cool.”
Hazel Southwell: You’ve been in Formula E for a season and a bit now. What have you enjoyed most since coming to Formula E?
Pascal Wehrlein: “Definitely the competition. I think Formula E is really competitive with a lot of manufacturers, and the level is really high, but what I enjoy is that it’s still fair. I mean, you have other series where there are bigger brands and smaller teams, and always you see a big difference in competitiveness and lap times, and that’s just because one team can spend a lot of money and the other is not able to spend so much. So, therefore, in my opinion, I like the idea of Formula E that the cars are, or some parts of the cars are spec parts and you are not allowed to change aerodynamics and so on, so on one hand that’s still very simple for the teams, but they are still able to develop their own powertrain and so on, so the teams can make a difference in those areas, but they’re a lot smaller than what you’ve got in Formula 1 for example.
“It means the teams are a lot closer together, it’s more fair for the drivers. There’s not only one or two teams which are able to win, there are a lot of teams, nearly all of them have the chance to win and I really like that. On a good day, you really feel like you’ve achieved something great. Yeah, I like that. You are driving against all the drivers, you are not only…in Formula 1, I always had the feeling in Manor or in Sauber as well, we are just driving against one or two teams, which means driving against four drivers, maybe five or six drivers. On a bad day, I was just driving against my team-mate when the car was not good enough on some tracks, so for me, that is not the idea of sport.”
Hazel Southwell: How frustrating is that? Because when you’re in a team that’s not competitive, it’s not like you’re not working as hard?
Pascal Wehrlein: “No, it’s definitely not. The preparation, the effort, and how much you spend looking at the data and everything, the simulator, it’s exactly the same every weekend but on some tracks I give you the best example in my case, I drive two completely different cars in my two years in F1. Manor was a car that was really fast on high-speed tracks because we had a current Mercedes engine and it was still ahead of the others, so we knew we like when we’re coming to tracks to Austria with a lot of straights, Monza, even Spa, we should be more competitive, and then there are some tracks you know where you need a lot of downforce and the straight-line speed was not as important.
“We knew ‘ok this weekend is going to be difficult’, but on the other hand, I was in Sauber the year after and we had last year’s engine. So it was completely the opposite, we knew that [when] we are going to tracks such as Monza and so on, that we would be slow because we just miss straight-line speed with last year’s engine, and yeah, I mean it’s not frustrating because you still want to make the best out of it, obviously, still everything is possible, but yeah, it’s not the same feeling going to a race track and you know ‘ok, this weekend I can be on the podium, I can win or get pole position’ – it’s not the same approach.